Antwan Barnes #98 of the San Diego Chargers reacts to a play during the game against the Oakland Raiders at Qualcomm Stadium on November 10, 2011 in San Diego, California.
Days removed from landing the job, Mel Tucker last week held his first conference call as Jacksonville Jaguars interim head coach.
He spoke eloquently to San Diego media about his stout running game. He discussed his defense's goal to be plus-two in the turnover margin each game.
Then arose a question of how rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert handles the pass rush.
"I've seen Blaine," Tucker said with a pause. "I've, I've seen — I have not — I don't see Blaine as a, as a, as a guy — I see Blaine do his best to stand in there and complete passes and deliver the ball. That's what I see."
Under pressure, Tucker sputtered, and guess what? Gabbert does, too.
The San Diego Chargers will face the Jaguars at 5:30 p.m. PST Monday at EverBank Field, looking to snap a six-game losing streak and begin to salvage a season that's likely tumbled too far for rescue. To improve a bleak outlook, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has big plans to rattle the 22-year-old Gabbert.
"We're going to try to harass him as much as possible," Manusky said. "Try to get after him. He has a talented running back (Maurice Jones-Drew), and we've got to make sure we can take care of him, too."
Like his coach, Gabbert is fairly new to the job; the 10th overall pick is making his 10th career start, and so far, he's had his struggles.
The pocket passer is completing 48.5 percent of his passes, the second-worst efficiency in the league only to mobile Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. He averages 5.2 yards per pass attempt, by far the fewest among all starters.
Against the blitz, in particular, the developing Gabbert unravels.
At times staring down the oncoming pass rush instead of coolly maintaining his vision downfield, he's completed 37.6 percent of his passes (35-of-95) when blitzed with 3.5 yards per attempt. He has been overall sacked 28 times, same as Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers but in 148 fewer dropbacks.
"I just think he's a young guy trying to manage a game," coach Norv Turner said. "They've played in a lot of close games. They've played very good teams and very good defenses. You're in games where it may still be close but you're behind. It's hard. All those things are hard for a young quarterback."
The game sets up nicely for outside linebacker Antwan Barnes.
The pass-rush specialist will see plenty of the field on passing downs in a matchup against Jaguars right tackle Guy Whimper, who has allowed an AFC-high 10 sacks, including at least one in each of the past nine games.
Gabbert, who's got little help from a weak receiving core that last week fired wide receivers coach Johnny Cox and cut starter Jason Hill, went down six times last week against the Houston Texans.
The Jaguars (3-8) didn't score an offensive touchdown in the 20-13 loss.
"He's a rookie," Barnes said last week. "He just needs time to settle in the pocket. But getting after him is one of the areas we're looking at. Coach is putting together a good plan to get after him."
Must Be Nice
The Jaguars declared cornerback William Middleton (knee) out for the season Saturday, becoming the team's 20th player to be placed on injured reserve.
In November, the Jaguars placed starting cornerbacks Reshean Mathis and Derek Cox on IR.
"They've lost a starter (before), and they played better since then," Turner said. "We'll see who replaces him and how he plays. Sometimes you make a change and you get better."
Turner was then asked if the same thing has happened to him this season: lose a player whose substitute outperforms the man replaced.
"Not quite," Turner said flatly.
Entering the league, Jones-Drew attracted doubts to whether, at 5-foot-7, he could ever handle a consistent rushing load.
Six seasons later, the Jaguars running back's short size seems a distinct advantage.
"Number one, you can't see him," inside linebacker Takeo Spikes said. "Number two, when you finally do see him, he's got a full head of steam heading behind him, so you better be just as low as him or you're going to be getting trucked."
Manusky said the Chargers will try to "load the box as best as possible" to limit Jones-Drew, who is 54 yards short of his fifth season with 1,300 or more total yards.
Outside linebacker Shaun Phillips isn't overcomplicating the matchup.
"Whoever got the ball, tackle him," Phillips said. "Don't matter if he's 10-foot-tall or 2-foot-tall. If he got the ball, tackle him. Look for the brown thing, not the person."